Giving up… DRINKING

John Aitch, a retired international journalist who commutes between a rented flat in Kalyves and his cottage in Scotland, has been giving up things half his life. Here's the first of (hopefully) a regular column.

Alcoholic? Who, ME??

No. I was a social drinker. Every time anyone said they would have a drink, I said ‘Social I.’

I could take it or leave it. The trouble was I always took it.

Lots of folk have a clear definition of an alcoholic. Half are women but they usually picture a homeless man living in gapsites, under bridges, in shuttered shop doorways. Wild eyes or dead eyes. Ragged clothes, ragged teeth. Swigging from cheap wine bottles and mouthing obscenities at the world.


Or maybe most alcoholics are like you and me.

Health authorities, social workers, pastoral guides and others whose jobs bring them into regular contact with the wide community reckon around seven per cent of drinkers go on to become dependent on it. Millions of people.

Is drink costing YOU more than money? Is it interfering with a major area of your life? Or of someone close to you?

Perhaps you’ve tried to cut down, only have a few at the weekend, switch from the hard stuff to wine, or from too much wine to a small carafe. You can stop but can’t stay stopped.

That was me, but you wouldn’t have singled me out. Not for a long time. I usually kept the company of serious drinkers, wasn’t interested in those who were real social drinkers, who said ‘No, that’s enough for me, thanks…’ or ‘Let’s have a meal now, shall we?’ Bores, I called them. Not to their faces. To their faces if I downed enough.

Let’s call them Tom, Dick and Harry. If the company, the music, the food or whatever was good, Tom would forget his drink. I often finished his in the closing-time clamour. Dick had more important things too. His wife, the job next day, they came before getting some more in. I had a wife and a job too. For a long time.

Harry was a bit more like me. One of the serious drinkers. He denied that he often got pissed. He did, but give him a reason NOT to drink — a really bad hangover, a relationship threat, a worrying health problem — and he’d leave it alone. When my doctor told me I couldn’t go on living on a diet of vodka and vindaloo, I raised a large glass in the bar that night and shouted: ‘Guess who’s giving up curries!’

Funny, eh? But when the same GP insisted I do something about my ‘problem’, I changed my doctor.

Years on, my defences down, I would cry: ‘This time it will be different.’ It rarely was. A high IQ couldn’t help me understand that one drink was too many and 10 were never enough.

It took more than 20 years of diminishing pleasure and increasing pain (to those who cared about me, too) before I decided to try meetings of Alcoholic Anonymous.

That was many years ago. I’ve met thousands of alcoholics, most of them sober and enjoying peace of mind, but also plenty of others, desperate, drinking themselves into depression. Not all alcoholics sleep on public benches…

I was in my first year in AA when I heard Miriam. Her twinset and pearls, her cut-glass accent had me squirming in my seat at a London meeting. She was relating how she’d surrendered to her problem after her three daily sherries crept up to four.

‘I’ve spilled more on my tie,’ I thought.

Then she told how three glasses of wine hadn’t affected her babysitting her lovely granddaughter, but the day she had the fourth she’d vomited over the little girl, fell asleep on the couch and almost burned the place down.

‘It’s only now that I’m two years sober that my son and his wife trust me again,’ she added.

It’s not how much we drink, or how often. It’s what it does to us.

If you got this far, maybe you should try AA. No one will ask you to confess or even speak. You can just listen to others who know how it is, how it feels, how to change it.

Where I am now, on the Greek island of Crete, there’s a meeting at 7pm every Tuesday in a back-room of the Konstantinos Church on Agios Konstantinos Street in Chania.

Maybe give it a go. What have you got to lose?